Before we get to the glorious winner of the first annual “Next Great Fantasy Football Writer” contest, please indulge me in a little semi-ancient St. Amant history. (I suggest printing this out to read in the bathroom, or on your next transatlantic flight in lieu of Ambien.) . . .

More than a decade ago, my wife and I moved to Florence, Italy. Birthplace of the Renaissance. The Athens of the Middle Ages. The home of, well, everything – art, architecture, literature, science, religion, politics, and of course, gelato nocciola di cioccolata* — that we now revere and hold dear (minus politics, that is, a profession filled with unscrupulous, lying, deceitful, duplicitous, insecure, self-worshipping, highway rest stop bathroom-trawling cockbags). The nascent epicenter of everything that (A) freed us savages from the nose picking, ass scratching hillbilly-ness of the Dark Ages, and (B) ushered us into the glorious sunlight of Modern era. And in September of 2001 — we left for Italy a mere nine days after the tragedy of 9/11; people thought we were nuts to even get on a plane, let alone one heading to a foreign country – Florence became our home for the next year

(*There is no record of the original creation/birth of gelato nocciola di cioccolata, a.k.a. chocolate hazelnut gelato. We just ate it. And ate it. A lot. Mostly because the best gelato joint in Florence, called Perche No? [translation: Why Not?], happened to be a few doors down from us. Meaning, if not for all the walking we did, combined with our uber-sensible Italian diet – fresh ingredients every day; healthy, small, distinctly “un-American” portion sizes; inherently organic-before-organic-was-hip — we would have remembered our time in Italy not as a semi-calculated risk we took that ultimately paid off – more on that in a moment – but, rather, as the year I ballooned up Brando-style, waddled around wheezing and sweating on the narrow, cobblestone streets wearing nothing but chocolate-stained, drawstring fat-guy pants, Fiddle-Faddle remnants caked into my Unabomber beard, and gorging myself to death like the “Gluttony” guy in Se7en while my poor wife sobbed and called piano movers to hoist my manatee carcass out through the front windows and down onto a waiting flatbed.)

Anyway, we rented a tiny studio apartment at 3 Via dei Tavolini. It was about three blocks from the majestic Duomo (http://tinyurl.com/3cvjkwu) and about five-hundred yards from the original home of one Dante Alighieri, who burst onto the literary scene in the 14th century with his Divina Commedia, or Divine Comedy, widely seen as the preeminent work of Italian literature and one of the greatest literary works of all time. In his little medieval home, now a bed & breakfast, our long since deceased neighbor wrote his masterpiece over the course of — wait for it – thirteen years. Thirteen. From 1308 until his death in 1321. Can you imagine the dedication, effort and self-motivation that took? Granted, he didn’t have such distractions as Internet porn, Angry Birds or fantasy football. But still: thirteen years! Can you also imagine the number of times he must’ve said, “Ehhhh, screw this, I’m gonna take a nap”? Probably countless. But he kept going, dipping that ostrich feather (avian species completely made-up) into his octopus ink (also made-up, as octopi were not commonly found in the Arno River) and scrawling an epic 14,233 line poem on parchment paper (this is probably accurate). Day after day. Hour after hour. Morning, noon and candlelit night. All because he had something inside him that he simply had to get out.

All because he just wanted to write.

I think this is a lot like you guys. Not that any of your entries over the past two months traced the journey of man’s soul from darkness to divine light culminating in the beatific vision of God. And, now that I think of it, Ochocinco’s being traded from the purgatory of Cincinnati to the Belichickian luminescence of New England could qualify as a “beatific.” But regardless, your perseverance and effort, week after week, was downright Dante-esque, and just great to see. And that, first and foremost, is something that we judges wanted to acknowledge and praise.

Look, it’s hard to put yourself out there. It’s risky. A lot like my move to Italy. At the time, the dotcom bubble had burst and the economy was in the shitter (kinda like it is now). I had a good, stable advertising career from which I willingly, if with some trepidation, walked away. And if you recall the immediate post-9/11 vibe here in the States, danger lurked everywhere. Every letter you received was potentially laced with Anthrax. Every flight was potentially full of racially-profiled, turban-wearing, shoe-bombing jihadists bent on inducing fiery airline explosions and giggling as the remnants of charred infidels cascaded to the Earth. So merely getting on one of these flying death tubes, and leaving the relative safety of our cocoon-like lives in Boston, was seen by our friends and family as risky at best, downright reckless at worst. But we were going. Period. After all, we’d quit our jobs. We’d saved for an entire year – not a lot, mind you, but enough to survive for a while without paychecks and 401(k) contributions. And, most of all, I had a goal and, at the risk of sounding totally cornball, a dream: to, finally, be able to write full-time. All day, every day. Without the distractions of home. Moving away was the ticket. I’d just never had that luxury before. There was always something getting in the way (my job, mostly…and, okay, the aforementioned porn), and damned if I wasn’t going to, for once, give it a real shot and go for it, taking away each and every excuse I’d ever had for not going for it before.

And eight months later? Well, I’d finally written . . . well, kind of a piece of shit, honestly. Much like this intro, my first “book” was an admittedly meandering, ponderous, non-fiction travelogue about one newlywed couple’s (us, obviously) insane move abroad at the worst possible time and the subsequent, humorous ups and downs. But when I sent queries out to literary agents and publishers, all I heard was the proverbial crickets. Nothing. Followed by the proverbial rejection slips. It was brutal. A real wake-up call that this shit ain’t easy. Because if it were, everyone would do it.

But lo and behold, more than two years later, and a year after we’d returned Stateside, one little chapter of that nearly 800-page, would-be magnum opus of suckitude – a chapter I’d honestly forgotten that I’d even submitted – was accepted by a small publisher, Travelers’ Tales out of San Francisco, whose annual travel/humor anthology (http://tinyurl.com/3f4f842 ) had featured contributors and writing heroes of mine such as David Sedaris, Bill Bryson and Dave Barry. And, even better, they paid me $100 bucks for my story on our loud, mysterious, Japanese upstairs neighbor at 3 Via dei Tavolini, and the rest, as they say, was mildly exciting history. I was a paid, “professional,” published writer.

And now, hopefully (he said, bringing his meandering point home), that door has opened for you guys. Why? Because, like Dante, you slaved over your pieces (I’m guessing) every day, fending off life’s distractions and throwing your faux-football helmet into the ring every two weeks. Because, like me, you said, “Fuck it,” took a risk and just went for it, submitting week after week, despite the knowledge that it just might not work out. You did something most don’t: you didn’t give up.

And in the end, when the dust settled, while there were several worthy contestants, it all came down to six of you – six out of 60-plus who originally entered — who had a legit shot at winning the whole thing. Just six of you who rose to the top, all of whom have some shiny hardware to show from past rounds. And, in no order, you six are:

Shawn Siegele (Round Two winner)

Rick Thomas (Round Three 2nd runner-up)

Leonard Paciga (Round Two 2nd runner-up)

Josh Vitale (Round One 1st runner-up, Round Two 1st runner-up, Round Three winner)

Jeff Brubach (Round Three 1st runner-up)

Greg Smith (Round One winner)

You guys deserve the biggest applause. You brought the funny and the smarts. And I speak for Chet and all the other judges when I say that any one of you could have easily walked away with the grand prize, and there was a lot of debate. But before we get to the overall champion, let’s start with Round Four’s winner and two runners-up and some comments from our guest judges John “2MugsFF.com/@RumfordJohnny” Sarmento, Melissa “TheFootballGirl.com/@thefootballgirl” Jacobs, and Sigmund “Footballguys.com/@SigmundBloom” Bloom:

2nd Runner-up: Rick Thomas. Rick was 2nd runner-up last round, and again came strong and had a good showing. Sarmento wrote: “Well-written piece by Mr. Thomas. Not fond of lumping certain ‘drafters’ into categories, I think that’s an overplayed and inaccurate notion. But nice blend of humor with the ‘Russian Weight Loss’ bit . . . not laugh out loud funny, just amusing. I think it’s fair to assume readers of all skill levels and interest would seek his advice…. Structurally sound & amusing towards the end. Enough to pique my interest in his future work.”

Melissa wrote: “The intro needs could be cut in half, and the musical references seemed a little forced. But Rick’s idea is solid, and the Harry Douglas example is bold. It’s a high risk, high reward column. Consider calling it The Big Sell instead of The Big Kahuna. Kahuna guys are guys like Vick, Brady, AP. Sell conjures up more of a diamond in the rough.”

And Sigmund wrote: “[Rick’s] analysis and the Harry Douglas reference is strong and I like the idea of boldness as a motif.”

Nice work, Rick. Again. You had four great weeks. Congrats.

1st Runner-up: Josh Vitale. Man, Josh has been the proverbial second banana in three of four rounds. The Oates to each weekly winner’s Hall. The Cagney to the weekly winner’s Lacey (though I honestly don’t know which is which). But that’s not a slam – it means he’s been eerily consistent, and has never finished lower than 2nd runner up each week, even in the weeks where we’ve had dozens and dozens of entries. And right now, joke though we do, Oates is rolling around nude on giant piles of money doing body shots off the perfect asses of gorgeous Brazilian swimsuit models . . . and we’re not. So, all this “second banana” stuff about Josh is actually a bonus for him. More on that in a second.

Melissa wrote: “Cool concept . . . . Solid work, Josh. I’d read you.” Sarmento wrote: “I liked Josh’s approach to projecting production for weeks ahead, and his writing was sound.”

And Sigmund wrote: “Outstanding. Clarity in idea and articulating how it will work, examples, why it is relevant and needed. I would look forward to reading him, which is definitely something I wouldn’t say about most FF columns out there.”

Josh was once again in the running for a top weekly prize, but got edged out in Round Four by….

Round 4 Winner: Jeff Brubach.

Jeff, man, you were the funniest this week, hands down. But it wasn’t just humor: you made a clear case for your column and why it will be different/better than what’s out there. Melissa wrote: “The New Yorker sized piece scared me before diving into the first word.  It’s fantasy football, not the detailed account of the Osama Bin Laden raid.  ‘Life ring’ should be ‘life preserver’ in the first paragraph.  Love this line: ‘With VBD, ADP, YPC and roughly 736 other fantasy football acronyms out there, draft prep is beginning to feel like it should require a PHD.’ I really like the Fantasy Smashmouth concept of advising how to interact with other owners.”

Sigmund Bloom wrote: “Good pitch and execution and persuasive argument. I like the way [Jeff] distinguished his columns from others out there. Obviously I’m not one of target audience, but hitting on the idea of not ‘talking down’ to audience is right on. Slamming ‘sheep’ and otherwise emphasizing individual thinking is a good theme too. I like it.”

And Sarmento wrote: “A young Rumford Johnny? Perhaps. I see a lot of myself in this young whippersnapper, in fact I think we should get together on ‘Maury’ for a paternity test. Hope his mom isn’t that waitress from Denny’s on Route 2. I was drunk, she gave me extra pancakes…but enough about me. Jeff was clever, a little gross, and not heavily entrenched in stat work. Should I sue? If he changes his name to ‘Brubford Jeffy’ I just might. His idea for ‘Fantasy Smashbacks’ wasn’t anything novel. However, he entertained me, and if his fantasy intel is anything close to his funny, I’d return to read work of his work.”

But, alas, Jeff, the winner of Round 4 isn’t automatically the OVERALL winner. After all, we said up front that we’d take into account the entire body of work, not just one strong/weak round. Meaning, based on pure consistency, skill, style, football knowledge, humor, and clear-minded point-of-view, and that X-factor of “Could you plug him right into a site, right now, wind him up and watch him go without much if any assistance or editorial back-watching?” we have one grand champion, winner of some straight hard cash, a paid season-long gig on Razzball & FanDuel, and all the glory, fame and fake football groupies that follow. In the first three rounds, he finished 1st runner-up, 1st runner-up, and winner. That, folks, is consistency, which is a must in this business of ours. And based on that, and more, THE NEXT GREAT FANTASY FOOTBALL WRITER, 2011 is . . .

Mr. Josh Vitale.

As you can see above, based on his weekly performances, Josh simply brought it round after round, never compromising on effort, quality, style, and point of view. And over the four weeks, he was the very definition of consistency, landing three runner-up finishes and one first place win. (And not that anyone will be excited about finishing second and third, but Jeff Brubach, you’re our overall 1st runner-up, and Rick Thomas, you’re 2nd runner-up. Congrats. Might suck to finish so close and not haul in the big prize, but again, about 60 people joined in Round One . . . meaning over two months, you kicked the collective asses of approximately 57 dudes. Not bad, gentlemen. Not bad at all.)

So, congrats, Josh! Yes, I used an exclamation point. Figured it was appropriate here. Chet and Geoff Bough (FanDuel) will be in touch about getting you started on their sites, and we’ll send you your cash prize ASAP. And get started you will: as in, this week. What? You thought you could take a week off and celebrate, John Oates-style? No way, man. The season starts in two days. SO GET TO FUCKING WORK, NEWBIE!

Again, a sincere thank you to all our guest judges, who are some of the best minds/radio hosts/writers/podcasters/columnists/leaders in the fantasy biz – Kay Adams, Sigmund Bloom, Jim Day, Sara Holladay, Melissa Jacobs, John Sarmento, Evan Silva, Chris Wesseling – and to Chet and Geoff for offering up the paid writing gigs.

Finally, a big thanks to everyone who participated and put your blood, sweat and tears into your columns. The final six listed above: know that while Josh will be the only weekly “full-timer,” Chet welcomes your submissions to Razzball and Jim Day of GoAheadScore (http://www.GOAheadScore.com) welcomes your submissions as well, so hit him up on twitter at @FantasyTaz. Yes, you guys impressed these judges that much. So I’d encourage you to submit everywhere and anywhere you can, and just keep at it.

We’ll be back in February for the baseball version of this contest, and, of course, for NFL 2012-2013.

Good luck this season.

  1. uncle mowglie says:
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    congrats mr. Josh.

  2. Rick says:
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    Congrats Josh!

  3. Shawn Siegele

    Shawn Siegele says:
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    Congrats to Jeff on Round 4 and Josh on the overall.

  4. Again, a huge congrats to, especially, the guys who made that top 6 above. Wish everyone could have won, as they say, but still…you guys were most consistent week-to-week. And I appreciate that you all seem like good/fair dudes in regards to not winning & being happy for Josh (knowing how much work it took, considering the work you guys put into it), and all should have no trouble finding writing gigs this year. Definitely hit Chet/Jim Day/some of the other judges up to see about contributing to their sites. Good luck, fellas.

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